Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Hokkaido Pumpkin Soup

I’ll just come right out and say it. I took pumpkin for granted. Guilty as charged. I refer to my pre-Denmark days when I could go to any supermarket and buy as much canned pumpkin as I wanted. This was also a time when I had yet to discover just how delightful and soul-satisfying a steaming bowl of pumpkin soup could be. Never a fan of pumpkin pie--I enjoy it more as I get older--in my kitchen pumpkin strictly had been relegated to baked goods, such as muffins, cookies, and pancakes.

A year or so ago I grew excited upon spotting a jar of “canned” pumpkin in my local Danish grocery store. It was a large jar that contained brightly colored orange spears...in some sort of clear liquid. Okay, well, not the kind of canned pumpkin I was used to, but pumpkin nonetheless. Even though I was put off by the orange flesh floating around in the jar, not so unlike animal fetuses in formaldehyde, I bought it anyway. When I got up the nerve to remove the lid I pierced a piece with a fork. It had a mysterious odor and it became clear that it was pickled in some sort of brine a la sweet pickles. I loathe sweet pickles. I plugged my nose and took a bite but the texture--rotten banana? overcooked cauliflower?--stopped me dead in my tracks. Let’s suffice it to say that the jar of pumpkin was short lived.

From that moment forward I pretty much resigned myself to the fact that I would lead a pumpkin-less existence, at least when it came to food.

That’s when I discovered the hokkaido (also known as red kuri, also known as potimarron). Oh thank heavens for Hokkaido. Hokkaido...let me count the ways. I was visiting a friend who served mugs of warm and spicy hokkaido soup. I about died. That’s dying in the good way. I seriously suspect this soup has medicinal qualities. It has depth. It has texture to end all textures. And the color? I could stare at it for hours. Okay, maybe I need more to do.

Hokkaido is small in size. It’s a bright, bright orange. It’s flavor is sweet and nutty. It’s easy to peel and less watery/more flavorful than big pumpkins. We’re not so far into October and I’m on my third batch of soup. Hokkaido starts to appear in the stores (and on roadside stands) here in mid- to late-September. Yesterday was another big day for me, along with a new hokkaido, I picked up the last two butternut squash at the veggie market. These are a bit of a rarity in my town. I rejoice simply because when one is living far from what one knows, it’s the little things that make a difference.

Hokkaido Pumpkin Soup

800-900g (one biggish sized) Hokkaido, skin removed and flesh chopped.
3T olive oil
3 cloves of garlic
2t curry powder
2t cumin powder
2t koriander powder
2t nutmeg (preferably freshly grated)
1-inch piece of fresh ginger, grated
3c chicken or vegetable broth
1 can coconut milk
the zest and juice of 1 lime
salt and pepper

Using a sharp knife, carefully remove the skin of the hokkaido and cut into pieces a bit larger than bite sized. Saute curry and garlic in olive oil. Add broth, pumpkin and spices and let cook until pumpkin is soft, 20-30 minutes. Puree using a hand blender or in an upright blender. Return to pan. Add coconut milk and lime juice. Serve.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Lemon, Olive, Parsley Quinoa Cakes

I’ve wanted to share this recipe for months. Months. That’s how fast time has been flying. It gets away from me all the time. Get back here, time. Right this instant. This meal has become a staple at our house. Here are the top five reasons you should hurry to your kitchen and whip some up:

1. They’re delicious. Duh.
2. Quinoa...whole grain, protein.
3. Green olives. The kind you use in Martinis. Kalamata are also a good pick.
4. They look pretty.
5. Excellent leftovers.
6. Bonus: vegetarian.

Don’t let the semi-involved instructions deter you. On the surface, it might seem time consuming, but forming and shaping little patties in your hands is sort of meditative. Sometimes I break the recipe into three steps: cook the quinoa up to a day ahead; prepare the patty mixture and refrigerate up to 24 hours; shape the mixture into disks and pan fry.

These are wonderful served warm on a bed of fresh baby spinach. I’ve had success spooning over either a mustardy vinaigrette or homemade basil pesto - both are amazing with these quinoa cakes.

I also like them cold. The one tip I have is to make your mixture moist enough before cooking. There is a fine line between a moist and tender texture and hockey pucks.  You want to strike a nice balance between patties that are wet enough to stick together and keep their shape and those that fall apart when you put them in the pan. 

Lemon, Olive, Parsley Quinoa Cakes
Adapted from Super Natural Every Day

3c cooked quinoa
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2c grated parmesan
1/3c coarsely chopped green olives
1/3c chopped parsley
1T lemon zest
3/4c bread crumbs
1/2t salt
1/2t pepper or red pepper flakes
1-2T water
2T olive oil

In a large bowl, toss together onion, garlic, cheese, olives, parsley, lemon zest, bread crumbs, salt and pepper, and cooled quinoa.

Add beaten eggs and stir until all of quinoa is moistened. If necessary, add more water, 1T at a time, to thoroughly moisten mixture. Err on the side of wet because the quinoa dries out during cooking.

Scoop mix by 2 tablespoons. Use clean, moist fingers to form into a patty.

Cook 4-5 minutes each side in hot olive oil. Brown and remove to a paper towel lined plate. Serve warm or cold.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Banana Fig Bread with Toasted Walnuts

I’m into quick breads lately. What’s not to love? Unlike most cake, it makes a convenient and healthyish breakfast. Enfold a slice in plastic wrap and it’s an easy-to-take-with you breakfast or snack. I have a long commute to my teaching job, so a big hunk of walnut-studded banana bread and a thermos of coffee help get me through the drive. Made with whole grain flour and yogurt it’s nutritious...but still a bit indulgent, too. Quick bread recipes also provide the basis for creativity. Zucchini bread updated with big, fat flakes of dried coconut is a hit...as is carrot bread chock full of dried, chopped dates.

In addition to their versatility, quick breads are so, um, quick, that before you know it, you can have homemade bread perfuming your kitchen and keeping you company for days. It has true staying power. Wrapped tightly in foil, it will keep well for up to a week. Like fine red wine, most quick breads actually improve with age.

Such is the case with Banana Fig Bread with Toasted Walnuts. Me and banana bread go back, way back, to the days when I couldn’t stomach the fruit in its natural state but would happily ingest it mashed up into batter and baked into a fragrant loaf of goodness. I’ve since made peace with the yellow boomerang, I even enjoy one on occasion--but always on the green side and never ever ever with brown spots, although ironically the darker the fruit the better the banana bread.

While my kitchen has manufactured (okay, made) countless loaves of classic banana bread, a new variety caught my eye. The key difference here being the addition of dried figs, which get chopped up into little pieces and stirred into the batter. What results is a sublime and wholesomely decadent treat. That’s oxymoron speak for good.

Banana Fig Bread with Toasted Walnuts
Adapted from Ted Allen

1c chopped, toasted walnuts
1 1/3c all-purpose flour
2/3c whole wheat or other whole grain flour (spelt, graham, etc.)
1/2 brown sugar
1/4c sugar
1t baking soda
1/2t salt
3 large ripe bananas, mashed
1c dried figs, stemmed and diced
6T unsalted butter, melted (or 6T vegetable oil)
1/3c plain yogurt
2 large eggs
2t vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350F/180C
Whisk flours and next four ingredients in a large bowl. Set aside.
Combine bananas and next five ingredients in a medium bowl, stir in walnuts.
Fold banana mixture into flour mixture.
Spoon batter into a buttered and floured 9x5-in. loaf pan.
Bake 45-55 minutes or until a wooden toothpick comes out clean, shielding with foil as necessary (to prevent top from becoming too dark or burned).
Cool in pan on a wire rack 30 minutes.
Remove from pan; cool completely before slicing.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Lemon Faux Pudding

I like the word faux.  There's not nearly enough moments in my life when I get to use it. 

Ahem, when I lived in the U.S. I’d occasionally buy packets of flavored powder that were mixed with firm, silken tofu to make a pudding of sorts. I’d find them in the health food section and they came in chocolate and vanilla flavor. Although the powder's distinct tang would inevitably impart a slightly awkward mouth feel, it took at least seven or eight (okay, many) bites of pudding for me to tire of it. More important is the smooth texture. When mixed into a creamy state, the velvety character of a pudding made with tofu is, dare I say, far superior to its milk-made cousin.

In Denmark I’ve never come across the powder, so this homemade lemon variety is perfect. I’d wager that making your own over buying the powder is a better bet anyway. The other reason I was quick to make this version is the delectable crumble topping. It’s akin to granola but with fewer chunky additions and the inclusion of thyme, which pairs stunningly with lemon.

If you think tofu is gross and wouldn’t dare let it pass your lips, fuhgeddaboudit. Its extra lemony flavor--not to mention the creamy texture--is reason enough to put any tofu bias aside. Don’t be a tofuist. It’s not like being ageist or sexist, it’s worse. If you already embrace the tofu, there’s nothing else to say, is there? 

Lemon Faux Pudding
Adapted from Joy the Baker

Pudding Ingredients:
1 block of firm silken tofu
2T fine cornmeal or semoule (I use the semoule I get in France)

pinch of sea salt
1/3 to 1/2c honey, depending on how sweet you want it
grated zest of one lemon
3T freshly squeezed lemon juice

Crumble Ingredients:
2T coconut oil, melted (can substitute with vegtable oil)
1/4t vanilla extract
2T granulated sugar
1/4t sea salt
3/4c rolled oats
1/4c unsweetened coconut (large flake or shredded)

1t fresh thyme leaves (I used dried)

For the pudding:
Wrap tofu between layers of paper towels and set aside for a few minutes to drain.

In a food processor (or using a strong hand in a mixing bowl) combine tofu, cornmeal, salt, honey, lemon zest, and lemon juice.  Blend until completely smooth.

Refrigerate a minimum of 1 hour.

For the crumble topping:
Set oven to 350F/180C and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Combine all dry ingredients.  Add melted coconut oil and vanilla and stir until mixture is thoroughly moistened. 

Spread the mixture in the pan and bake until golden and fragrant, 12-18 minutes, depending on your oven.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Vegan Seed Cookies with Chocolate Chunks

Cookies make the world go round.  It might sound grand, but I wholeheartedly believe it.  I have a vegan cookie for you that I’m pretty sure you’re going to love.   It’s a fun recipe to make with kids.  They can help you throw in the ingredients, many of which are seeds.  This recipe is also terrific because it’s customizable.  Is there a person out there who doesn’t like to put their own personal spin on dessert?  An ice cream sundae tastes infinitely better with the topping of your choice.  I like caramel on mine.  Chocolate is good too.  And salted peanuts!  You get the point.
For the record, I am not a vegan and have no plans to become one either.   I do however enjoy baked goods and have a life goal to try every dessert on the planet before I die.  Forget “100 places to see before you die,” for me it’s all about the sweets.  But I do try to eat healthfully most of the time.  If I make cake or pie for dessert then I will almost certainly prepare dinner with lots of vegetables and healthy protein.  I try to eat several servings of fruits and vegetables every day if for no other reason than to counteract all the sugar, chocolate, and butter I consume.

This vegan cookie is a terrific option if you are looking for something sweet that still errs on the side of healthy.  It’s chewy in the middle and crispy around the edges and contains tasty flecks of dark chocolate that complement the seeds and peanut flavors.  It would be wonderful with dried fruit and shredded coconut, if that’s your thing.  Mine contain sesame seeds and sunflower seeds but any seeds will do:  poppy, pumpkin, and hemp are three that come to mind.  Flax seeds are essential and you’ll want to “water” them to bring out the moisture before adding them to your wet ingredients.  Actual water comes in handy too since you want a rather moist dough and the only moisture comes from the wet flax and peanut butter.  You are welcome to try almond butter in addition to (or in substitution of) the peanut butter.

Vegan Seed Cookies with Chocolate Chunks
adapted from chocolateandzucchini.com

2T / 40g whole flax seeds
2T / 40g mixed seeds of your choice (I used sesame and sunflower)
1/2c + 1T / 75g rye flour (substitute any other interesting flour such as buckwheat or whole-wheat)
1c + 2T / 150g all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
3/4c / 120g unrefined sugar
4T / 80g all-natural peanut butter (or 40g each peanut butter and almond butter)
2T / 40g chopped dark chocolate

Put the flax seeds in a small bowl and cover with 80ml of water; set aside 10-15 minutes until mixture is thick.
In a medium bowl, combine the seeds, flours, baking powder, sea salt, and chocolate pieces.

In another bowl, beat together the wet flax seeds, sugar, and nut butter(s) until smooth.  Fold in the flour mixture, adding a little water as needed for the dough to come together.  It should be slightly sticky.
Transfer the dough onto a piece of parchment paper and roll it up into a log about 2 inches or 5cm in diameter.  Place the log in the freezer for 30 minutes to 1 hour, until firm enough to slice neatly.

Preheat the oven to 350F / 175C and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Cut the log into slices, about 1/2 inch or 1cm in thickness, and place them on the cookie sheet, giving them a little room to expand.

Bake for 12-15minutes, until golden and slightly dark around the edges.  Transfer to a rack to cool completely. 

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Dutch Oven Fig and Walnut Bread

Over the last few years or so it’s been my habit to hastily dismiss recipes that involve a dutch oven.  The reason?  I don’t have one.  Er, didn’t think I did is technically more accurate.  I would see recipe photos of great looking stews and slow cooked meats and think Nope, I’ll have to revisit that the day I have a dutch oven.  Wouldn’t you know that it would be an inspiring recipe for fig and walnut bread baked in one of these covered vessels that would break me.
I found myself plotting how I could carry out my new found mission: would I need to go out and lay down my hard earned Danish Kroner for one, or could I somehow get creative and pull it off using what I had on hand?  But just as much as I didn’t want to shell out big money, I also realized I had no oven-safe pot that was deep enough to accommodate the risen dough or a cover to top it with for that matter.  The lid is essential to perfectly lovely crust.
Thankfully, to quote Oprah, I had an Aha! moment.  I asked my husband if we still had the cast iron pot in storage with the camping equipment.  He said it should be there so I pulled on my boots and trudged down to the basement.  After tripping over boxes, suitcases, and other—let’s face it—junk, I located said camping box.  I opened the lid but could not easily see the cast iron pot.  My hopes dashed, I began to rapidly toss things out of the box.  There it sat at bottom of the box, cradled in its own box.  I swear it winked at me, just as I imagine old dolls and teddy bears wink when they’ve been rediscovered.
I carefully carried it upstairs and unwrapped it gently as if it were fine china.  Never mind that it is heavier than any kitchen appliance I’ve ever lifted.  There was some oil residue left over from the last time it was seasoned and since it had been awhile, I seasoned it again. If you’re not familiar with this process, it’s what keeps the insides of the pot food-friendly.  An unseasoned pot can become rusty and an unappetizing container in which to cook food.  To season, you simply rub with a little vegetable oil, stick it upside down in a medium warm oven, so the excess oil can drip out, and heat for one hour.  After the hour is up the heat gets turned off and the pot is cooled completely and brought to room temperature in the oven.  Seasoned in this way a pot might only need re-seasoning every year or so, perhaps longer depending on how often it is used. 
This is what I love about this recipe: it’s bread (duh!), there is no kneading involved (good for those days when your muscles have already had a workout), it develops an amazingly crisp crust, and it’s got wonderful dried figs, gently toasted walnuts, and cinnamon.  There was however one thing missing: a sufficient amount of salt.  The recipe does call for it, but I’ve increased the amount because I would have enjoyed the bread even more with more salt.  Another word to the wise: (Yes I am being heavy handed with the colons, it’s just that kind of day) I believe I prematurely removed the lid from my cast iron pot.  Once you remove it, the top browns very rapidly.  Make sure that your bread is sufficiently cooked on the inside before you remove the lid.  Mine wasn’t doughy, thank goodness, but it could have benefited from a few more minutes of steam under the cover. 
In case you are interested, I use a 6-quart Lodge cast iron pot.  Lodge is one of the oldest makers of cast iron in the United States.  I do not know whether this brand is available in Europe, but surely there are other options.  My husband bought ours six years ago for $39.99 (~ 350DKK), a total steal in my opinion.  We’ve mainly used it for camping, but now I feel comfortable incorporating it into the kitchen more.  I just need help lifting it in and out of the oven.

Dutch Oven Fig and Walnut Bread
Adapted from dinnerwithjulie.com
3c all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon dry active yeast
2t salt
pinch of sugar
1/2c chopped, dried figs
1/2c chopped, toasted walnuts
2t ground cinnamon
In a large bowl stir together flour, yeast, salt, and sugar.  Add 1 3/4c luke-warm water and stir until blended.  Dough will be shaggy and sticky.  Add the figs, nuts, and cinnamon and stir to combine.
Cover the dough with plastic wrap and let sit on the counter 18 to 24 hours.
The dough is ready when the surface is slightly wet looking and bubbly.  Put a piece of parchment paper on the counter and scrape dough out onto it.  Dust generously with flour and fold dough over itself a couple times. Sprinkle with a little more flour and cover with a tea towel.  Let sit minimum 1 hour, maximum 4 hours.
Preheat oven to 450F.  Put a 6-8 quart heavy covered pot in the oven as it heats.  Pull it out of the oven and lift up the dough on parchment and drop it into the pot (parchment and all).  Cover with lid.
Bake 30 minutes with lid.  Uncover and bake another 10-15 minutes until crusty and golden. 
Cool on a wire rack before cutting.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Triple Chocolate Avocado Brownies

Did you know that, besides their beguiling shape, texture, and flavor, avocados are technically a fruit? In 1970s America it was chic to have avocado green kitchen appliances. Nothing can erase my memories of ovens and refrigerators the color of rotting peas. As much reverence as I have for the avocado, it does not translate well to appliances. Or shag carpet for that matter. Then there were the times I tried in vain to grow my own avocado tree by sticking toothpicks into the seed and placing it carefully over a jar of water. Has anyone ever had success with that? I have a friend from Tanzania who recalls eating avocados by the dozen, right off the tree. She warned that this is not necessarily a diet friendly approach.

But unless you sit down to avocados for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, it’s highly unlikely you’ll get fat eating them. What’s more, the number of reasons to include avocados as part of your regular diet far outweighs the risk of putting on pounds. Avocados contain unsaturated fat, also known as the good fat. It is believed that this type of fat helps to activate the part of your brain that makes you feel full. Alas, a feeling we don’t get with French fries. Avocados also contain folic acid, fiber, and an antioxidant that is believed to protect against eye disease.

Apart from the ubiquitous guacamole, there are myriad ways to incorporate this wonder fruit into your kitchen. Dessert, for example. It might seem strange, but it really works. Avocados make for a killer chocolate mousse. The fact is they marry extremely well with chocolate, as evidenced by Triple Chocolate Avocado Brownies.

These brownies are worth every second of the miniscule effort to make them. I was somewhat apprehensive about the texture of the finished product since, compared with traditional recipes, the amount of fat and sugar is significantly reduced. But I was pleasantly surprised. While slightly more cakey, they are still moist and soft. The gooeyness factor is minimized, but I didn’t miss it. I actually enjoy that they are sweet but not cloyingly so, another feature of the usual culprit. That they are sort of a health food doesn’t hurt, either. My 4-year old wouldn’t touch an avocado to save his life, but he was crazy about the brownies. Did I mention they contain Nutella?

Triple Chocolate Avocado Brownies
Adapted from Tastes Better with Friends


1/4c / 60g unsalted butter – room temperature
1/2c / 115g brown sugar
1 egg
2 ripe, mashed avocados
1/3c / 75g Nutella
1c / 225g flour
1/4c / 60g cocoa powder (unsweetened)
1t / 10g baking powder
1t / 10g sea salt
1t / 10g vanilla extract
1/4c / 60g chocolate chips (or chopped dark chocolate)
1/4c / 60g sliced, toasted almonds


1. Preheat the oven to 180C, and grease a 20 or 23cm baking dish.

2. Beat the butter and sugar well.

3. Add the egg, avocados, and Nutella. Beat well.

4. Sift and add the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt and beat again.

5. Gently stir in the vanilla, almonds, and chocolate chips.

6. Pour into the prepared pan and bake for approximately 20 minutes. Depending on your oven, you might need to undercook slightly or bake for an additional 5 minutes. Check after 20 minutes.

7. Cool for 15-20 minutes and cut into squares.